Kelvin Sampson has always been about more than just basketball. He learned that from his dad. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
University of Houston coach Kelvin Sampson and Fabian White Jr. share a laugh at a press conference. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Ramon Walker is getting plenty of hands on teaching from Kelvin Sampson. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Kelvin Sampson is always teaching, frequently pushing for more. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Kelvin Sampson’s father was a coach too, but John “Ned” Sampson took on much more than diagraming out of bounds plays. He battled against the hatred of the Ku Klux Klan, helped drive a group of the white hooded cowards out of Pembroke, North Carolina with some of his fellow Lumbee Native Americans.
Yes, Ned Sampson made his biggest impact as an activist and an unshakable pillar of a non-federally recognized (essentially unprotected) Native American tribal community. Which meant facing down plenty of racism and other vile hatred. University of Houston coach Kelvin Sampson’s father was never afraid to take on something that was wrong. Or outright evil.
It probably shouldn’t be a surprise that his son isn’t just a should be Hall of Fame basketball coach who’s taken two different college basketball programs to the Final Four. And four teams to the Elite Eight. Kelvin Sampson has always cared about more than basketball. He’s always talked to his teams about real life issues outside of the game.
So when I ask Sampson about the recent mass shootings in the United States — specifically (and you sadly need to be specific about mass shootings these days) the racist-fueled one that killed 10 at a Buffalo supermarket and the horrific massacre of school children and teachers in Uvalde — he has thoughts.
“Well, they didn’t just start in the last year or two,” Sampson says of the shootings and the hate that fueled them. “Social media, cameras and stuff, brought it to life. But I grew up with that. For me, I think about my grandparents and what they had to live through.
“Gun control and how that’s being handled, we just need to do better.”
Sampson saw violence growing up in Pembroke — and his father and grandfather saw even more. Of course, how easy it is legally purchase weapons like the AR-15-style rifles that can kill so many in such little time has changed the equation since Sampson was a kid.
There finally may be some momentum for change too with what could be the first new gun control bill in decades having reached the Senate.
When Sampson talks about the shootings, you can hear some of the emotion in his voice. And maybe a little bit of doubt. This is not an issue where Kelvin Sampson claims to have all the answers. He’s not going to go scorched earth in taking a stand like Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr. Or directly call out Texas’ lawmakers for their inaction like San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.
That’s not Kelvin Sampson’s approach in general. You also get the idea that college coaches do not enjoy the same freedom of speaking their minds as NBA leaders do in many ways. A college coach’s constituency tends to be much wider. And more varied in ideology.
Still, you get the idea that Kelvin Sampson is thinking about these things. As he always does. You can only hope more Americans are too. Of all political bents.
This is a 66-year-old coaching lifer who’s never believed in that offensive Shut Up and Dribble mantra.
“He cares about as people too and he wants us to know about things going on in the world,” UH point guard Jamal Shead tells PaperCity. “It’s not just basketball. It’s deeper than that. That’s why we love him.”